This was a game that had something for every football fan: high scoring offense, hard-hitting defense, tense moments, trick plays and very large linemen going at it tooth and nail on both sides of the ball.
When the final whistle blew, the unbeaten Clark Fork Mountain Cats, a co-op of Superior and Alberton players fought off the gritty challengers from Shelby on their way to a 58-21 Montana 8-man playoff football win on Bobcat Field in Superior Saturday afternoon.
Mountain Cats junior quarterback Bryan Mask, with outstanding protection from his offensive line, threw for five touchdowns and the Clark Fork defense fought off a Shelby offensive line anchored by 6-foot-5-inch, 355-pound Mark Clark to up their perfect record to 10-0 for the year.
The win moves the Mountain Cats to the state playoff’s quarterfinal round where they will face Belt next Saturday afternoon at Bobcat Field. Shelby saw its season come to an end with a 6-4 record.
Clark Fork opened the scoring early in the first quarter, moving swiftly down field behind Mask’s passing and the running of Trey Green.
The opening drive culminated with a three-yard scoring run by Green just 99 seconds into the game. Mask hooked up with Isaiah Kovalsky on a two-point conversion toss to give the Cats an 8-0 lead they never relinquished.
After stopping Shelby cold on their initial possession, Clark Fork marched right back downfield, a drive the culminated with a 23-yard touchdown pass to all-purpose standout Kyler Francis from Kovalsky. Green snared a pass for the 2-point conversion and Clark Fork held a 16-0 lead with seven minutes left in the opening quarter.
With Mountain Cats defensive lineman Jacob Lapinski, a 6-foot-1-inch, 280-pound senior offsetting the mammoth Clark from Shelby, the Coyotes were held without a first down on their next possession and were forced to punt.
A combination of running and passing gains moved the Cats to the Shelby 4-yard line where Mask found Francis in the end zone for another score with 3:56 still remaining in the quarter and Clark Fork leading 22-0.
Shelby’s next possession also ground to a quick halt when Kovalsky intercepted a pass giving the Mountain Cats possession of the ball inside Shelby territory. Aided by a costly Coyote facemask penalty, Mask once again threw a touchdown strike to Kovalsky, this one from 18 yards out with 49 ticks off the clock remaining in the opening stanza and a 30-0 Mountain Cats lead.
Shelby finally put some numbers on the scoreboard in the opening minutes of the second quarter when running back Tabris Correa grabbed a pass from
quarterback Taylor Parsons and raced 31 yards for a touchdown. The extra point try was good and at just the 11:53 mark of the quarter, Shelby trailed 30-8.
The Mountain Cats offset that score on their next possession when Green fought off several tackles and romped 44 yards for six points. Wesley Buchanan ran for the 2-point conversion and with 11:53 left in the first half the Cats were in front 38-8.
Clark Fork would add to that lead on its next set of downs with the Mask to Francis combination accounting for another touchdown through the air, this one
good for 44 yards. The PAT was no good.
On the ensuing kickoff the game was halted for several minutes after a Shelby return team member appeared to be knocked unconscious, smothered under a
pile of Clark Fork defenders. Shelby coaches and the brother of the injured player ran onto the field, cursing at the officials and claiming the tackle was overly excessive.
When order was restored, the injured player arose and walked off the field on his own while unsportsmanlike penalty flags rained down on the Shelby
coaching staff. Another unsportsmanlike penalty was thrown a short time later as the Shelby sideline continued protesting the action.
Shelby fought back gamely, adding at touchdown on a 7-yard pass from Logan Leck to Briton Bunnell with 8:21 to go before halftime.
Leading 44-14, Clark Fork struck back in short order, when Mask threw a 15-yard touchdown to Jake Callaway. A successful point after run gave the Cats a 52-14 lead at the half.
The second half began with the game clock running mostly continuously in compliance with Montana high school rules that implement the timing change
when one team has a 35-point or greater lead. Shelby took the second half kick and went backward in the face of a swarming Mountain Cats defense.
Later in the third quarter Mask once again hooked up with Kovalsky on a 19-yard aerial strike, boosting Clark Fork to a 58-14 lead with 2:29 to play.
Fourth quarter action included a Buchanan interception with 8:52 to play but Shelby thwarted the following Cats drive. The game’s final score came when
Coyote Tyler Larson tossed a 23-yard touchdown to Correa, who scored with 2:29 left to play. The Cats ended the game by taking a knee and allowing the clock to expire.
After the game, Mountain Cats Head Coach Jeff Schultz said he was pleased with the overall play of his squad.
“We gave up some points we shouldn’t have, but it was a good, hard-hitting game,” Schultz said.